Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chronic Non-Review: X-Factor # 40

Peter David continues the best "non-event" event book on the stands with the latest edition of X-Factor. The man himself has once again asked that readers not spoil the surprise, and I won't.

PAD promised that X-Factor was going to offer heart-stopping shocks and a return to noir. This issue had both, while specializing in the latter.

After the events of X-Factor # 39, Jamie Madrox is in a bad spot emotionally, and hits the road to seek out one of his dupes, John Maddox. Maddox is a priest with a wife and child, living exactly the life that was essentially ripped from Jamie in the previous issue.

This is an issue of angst and dramatic speeches, rendered with skill by David as usual. The beauty of these recent issues is that the surprises are impactful because they flow so well from what came before. These are not parlor tricks, this is the beauty of establishing a continuity and then bringing the marrow of storytelling possibilities out.

The downside I suppose is that if you haven't been following X-Factor from the beginning, you can't feel these punches in your molars. Well, a new reader might still fell the shock in # 39 even as an outsider. But the suprise in # 40 will not even be understood unless you're familiar with the book.

A special flair that Peter David added to the mix: a Michelangelo reference. On the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel is a very famous painting by Michelangelo, a creation scene with God and Adam:

In X-Factor # 40, John Maddox sends out a prayer of thanks to his creator, and Jamie responds. Which is poetic, of course, since Jamie did create Maddox.

John wants to know if Jamie has returned to reneg on his promise to let him continue his life and ministry. Jamie can reabsorb John with a single touch, which Jamie threatens here:

And that's the difference between PAD and your garden variety drone writer. It isn't that David is so very clever for knowing that painting and working it into a comic book.

It's the fact that it works so perfectly in a completely inverted way. In the Michelangelo painting, which hangs in a church, you have an omnipotent God creating life. This is juxtaposed with a very imperfect Madrox, broken finger extended, threatening to take life back. In a church.

Any hack can work a reference into their work, it takes a real writer to use a symbol naturally to enhance a scene. PAD is obviously fully invested in this title and at the top of his game.

Oh, and the surprise? It's a good one. Last issue ended on a major downer, this time our shocker leaves room for hope. And just like last issue - cannot wait for the next.

Secret Six

Quincy has been trying to get me to read this series for some time, and I finally caved in. And what a guilty pleasure it is.

Gail Simone is scripting, and has more of a flair for depicting darkness than I would have thought. You can sense how much she's enjoying pushing the boundaries here. These are not heroes, and the rules are that there are no rules.

One thing Secret Six does right is keep it simple. You've got your Big Bad in the form of Junior. And Junior is really bad.

You've got your MacGuffin in the form of a metallic card. Written in Aramaic on that card is the phrase "Get Out of Hell Free". And some folks in the know are pretty convinced it works.

An anonymous client has hired the Secret Six to transport that card and Tarantula, the woman who stole it from Junior to Gotham City. For some reason the group is required to make a few pitstops on their road trip along the way.

Why don't they just take a non-stop flight to Gotham? Why do they have to stop at checkpoints along the way? I don't know, and you shouldn't care. We need a road trip filled with twists and turns, man, don't you know that?

Check your suspicions at the door and just run with it, and the book pays off very nicely. Simone has crafted very singular and interesting personalities for all of them, including turning Bane of all people into a likeable father figure for the group.

And to top it all off, I couldn't be more impressed with Nicola Scotts pencils. This is what comic books should look like.

If you want depth, go find some Grant Morrison or Brian K Vaughan. If you want a high-impact joyride with some laughs and darkness, go back and pick up Secret Six.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chronic Review: Push

Here's the fact: Push, by all accounts, is a failure. estimates the production budget for the film at $38M, and it has thus far taken in around $20M. This film is not going to make money in box office receipts.

Push was also pounded into paste by just about everyone who reviewed it. It's Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently sitting at 25%, which is bad. Not Catwoman bad. But noticeably not good.

So Push is an abject failure. Except it really isn't.

There are things to like about this movie. Let's start with Dakota Fanning, who was perfectly cast as Cassie, the thirteen-going-on-thirty-year-old precog who drives the story. She's petulant without being irritating, almost adorable in her bitchiness because of the transparent vulnerability she brought to the role.

Chris Evans is also very likable as Nick, the telekinetic. In fact the whole film is populated with odd characters that seem to fit perfectly in the Push mythos. Yes, on the whole the cast is probably too beautiful to really mimic "real life", whatever that is.

But many of these characters are very odd, and not in the circus sideshow way. In the way many people you meet are slightly out of synch with what constitutes bland normalcy. If real people were roped into a project like Division, they would look more like the folks we meet in Push, and less like the folks we meet in Bryan Singer's X-Men, is what I'm saying.

I also enjoyed the fact that this was a superhero movie without baggage. Part of the charm of seeing these comic book adaptations is seeing old favorites come to life. But natch, this also a great downfall.

To pick on the the X-Men again, one watches those films and says "Well, that's Halle Barre there. And she brings not one once of the necessary nobility and mystique to the character of Ororo."

Or you look at Nightcrawler coated with a series of ridiculous glyphs and say to yourself "Self, I understand that they're trying to pay homage in some way to the religious elements of that character. But those are really stupid, and this character is a wet towel. Where is Kurt Wagner the swashbuckler?"

And at that point your dreams are dashed because you are inevitably comparing them to the source material. Usually unfavorably. And Push has none of that - it's like reading a version of X-Men for the first time, and it's fun.

I like the fact that the film isn't set in America, and that Nick speaks Cantonese. I like the fact that Watchers drink booze for better fortune-telling, even if they aren't old enough for a driver's license. I like the fact that the screenwriters let Cassie and Nick argue about the rendering of a "shimmering bead" for far too long.

There is a palpable infectious energy to the picture, and they do a serviceable job of trying to build a mythology around Division and its gifted but mostly persecuted membership. I think that audience investment hangs largely on two things for Push:

A) The burgeoning friendship between Nick and young Cassie
B) The labyrinthine plot focused upon the contents of a mysterious black case

A worked for me just fine, and B is where this movie really couldn't get out of its own way. There is a trend lately where films get too busy proving how complicated, twisty, and clever they are. One would prefer they just be interesting. Push is one of those too clever for its own good films.

These kind of movies pay off when the viewer is rewarded at the end with an "aha!" moment of clarity. "So this is why that confusing nonsense happened!" After getting to the end of Push, there seem to be thirty untied knots. Few of them make sense upon recollection, and none of them really add much to the mix. It didn't need those knots.

I want to be clear about this - I enjoyed this film. It's clear at the end that the writers are trying to build a franchise, and I believe they have a premise and some characters that can support it. I hope that a second film gets made.

Push pales when compared to The Dark Knight or Iron Man, it's true. But it is not just limp genre fare like, say...Jumper. I say you may want to avoid paying $10 for a movie ticket, but it's absolutely worth renting the DVD if you're a comic book fan.

- Ryan

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chronic Review: Batman # 686

Script: Neil Gaiman
Pencils: Andy Kubert

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Part 1/2

We may only be in February, but this is my most anticipated "event" of 2009. Batman has been a special book lately, and I can think of no better way to cap recent events than a kind of eulogy given by the venerable Neil Gaiman.

Of course we know that Batman isn't really dead. If Mister Miracle can beat an Omega sanction, Bruce Wayne can do it with one hand tied behind his back.

And is this perhaps what we're witnessing in this issue? The story begins as friends and foes of Batman arrive to pay their respects to the fallen Batman. The Caped Crusader himself appears as a disembodied voice watching the proceedings, speaking to another invisible voice. I have no good guesses about who that voice might belong to, although I suspect Tim Callahan cracked it 3 pages in. I'm not nearly so clever.

Once everyone is inside, guests take turns telling stories about the deceased. The first is the Catwoman's tale, and the issue concludes with Alfred's story. The two tales are irreconcilable, and Batman even comments from the ether as he listens that Alfred's story is impossilbe in it's own right.

There seems to be a meta understanding in the framework here, where Batman is led to understand that he is a fictional character, or at the very least an entity in more than one reality. And that's very much in keeping with Morrison's recent work as well.

In both Catwoman's and Alfred's stories, Batman is hurt and ultimately slain by the ones who love him. I won't say more than that to preserve the experience.

Is this paying off? I'll reserve judgement until I see the second part. I find it difficult to believe that this story could be wrapped up in another issue, double-sized or not. There seems to much to say about Batman, and too many people worthy of having their say.

But this issue was a pleasure on its own merits, Gaiman has always had a gift for fairy tale nuance and suspense. It feels like something poignant is happening, and the mystery of how to interpret this wake (it's not a dream, the voice says) is certainly an itch one wants to have scratched.

One particularly intriguing bit for me was a line delivered by the Joker that appears to be a back-hand to the Heath Ledger version of the Joker. There is a young man outside the funeral home essentially forced to act as a valet for the incoming guests.

When the Joker appears and requests that the valet take care of his vehicle, the boy balks at the idea. "But you'll kill me", he cries.

And then Gaiman has the Joker reply as follows:

Maybe it isn't a slap at Nolan's "Agent of Chaos" Joker, but it sure felt like one. It's possible it isn't anything personal that Gaiman is reacting to here, since the entire issue is steeped heavily in nostalgia. And the Joker as the chaos agent is postmodern. I thought it was interesting, though.

As I said, I'm reserving judgement on this until I see the second half. I have every confidence that Gaiman will deliver something great. Right now it is something very good, and surely worth your time if you have an interest in Batman at all.

- Ryan

Thursday, February 5, 2009

IDW Rapes Your Ass!

IDW is doing a good job of completely raping it's readers this year so far. Two of their most anticipated comics came out this month with 22 pages for $4. Are you fucking kidding me? What kind of stupid fuck do you think I am? Am I going to pay that price for a comic book? Hell no. I got mine from DCBS preorder, thank you very much and I paid $1.75 each.

Let's start with Star Trek Countdown. Holy shit what a pile of feces this is. Let's start out by reiterating the $4 for 22 pages bullshit and then move on to it's lame ass storyline. If this is how the new movie is going to be, then I might not see it. The story revolves around Spock and his stay on Romulus. He finds out that a sun near the Romulan home planet is going to go SUPER SUPER nova and blow everyone up. Well he goes to the council and asks everyone to help him stop it, but of course they won't help him so a rogue romulan captain decides to risk his life for Spocks idea. Yay! We have a good idea, so let's see if we can pull it off. Well you can't. Spock seems pretty well written, but over all the comic is pretty crappy.

Now lets get to the biggest anal rape of all. G.I. Joe #1, another IDW property which seems to think that 22 pages is worth $4. This is supposed to be a rebuild of the franchise and in a lot of ways it is. This book really left me confused because it seems as though, at least at this point, Joe doesn't even know about Cobra yet. Which in some ways is pretty cool, but why would I want to hear the whole thing again? It's just an excuse to start over with a new reboot and another reason for us to spend more money on a franchise that some other company is trying to make money off of. It's crap, don't buy it, at least not for $4. If you can somehow get it for around $2.50 it might be worth the 22 pages. If not, leave it at your LCS.

Bottom line is that neither one of these comics is worth anywhere near the $4 they are asking for them. Let's help IDW, Marvel and DC comics realize we aren't going to pay that much for LESS pages then before. It wouldn't be as bad if they were still giving us 32 pages, but even that isn't the case. We are being screwed in more ways than one. Charging us an extra dollar an issue for no apparent reason and THEN giving us less story, that's fucking bullshit.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Market Spotlight: Blog Edition

Listen, I'm the only one on planet earth who thinks that Market Spotlight is a good idea. Apparently using your innate interests to pad your bank account in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s is just too abhorrent and boring for most comic book fans.

And while I'm too stubborn to simply kill it outright, I'm savvy enough to phase my market info out of the audio podcast and plant it here on the blog. So here we go:

Thunderbolts # 129

More Barack Obama nonsense, but certainly short-printed compared to Amazing Spider-Man # 583, which has now gone to a fifth goddamn printing. Obama actually looks more like Obama in this comic, which is nice.

I can't see this or any future Obama tie-ins doing anything long term, that boat has already sailed. But this was doing as much as $37 when it first broke and has settled into the $10 range now. Worth picking up and dumping if you can find it for cover, and I don't see why you couldn't.

X-Factor # 39

I have to admit, I'm a little perplexed about why this hasn't blown up already. But it hasn't. Rather than admit I don't have my finger on the pulse, which is clearly impossible, I'm viewing this as a buying opportunity.

Listen, Peter David kicked some serious posterior with this issue, and is promising even worse with #40 and #41. I'm betting that horse at this point, and that really ought to produce a significant horde chasing earlier issues, most specifically #39. This is still laying around around. Get it.

X-Factor Vol 1 Premiere Hardcover: The Longest Night

I think a very strong secondary play here is to dig up the first Premiere HC on X-Factor. If you listen to the show you know that we dig all the PHCs as long term value plays, but when interest spikes in a property, the book hunters tend to start at the beginning. And this is the beginning.

- Ryan